Nations Sign Climate Pact, But Pressed on Ratification Timing

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By Dean Scott

April 22 — More than 170 nations signed on to the Paris climate pact April 22, but United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned them not to bask too long in the applause and to now focus on ratifying the measure to get it into force before 2020.

The next step of ratification or other domestic approval of the Paris Agreement is likely to take individual countries a year or more, but that timeline may have gotten a jolt at the UN signing ceremony in New York. China said it will join the agreement before it hosts the September meeting of the Group of 20 major economies.

Ban told reporters the task ahead is “to ensure that the agreement enters into force as soon as possible” and well before 2020. “I call on the countries gathered here today to use this opportunity to announce a timeline for joining the agreement without delay,” he said.

In remarks to the UN earlier in the day, China's Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said the world's largest emitter “will make early accession to the Paris Agreement” and “will finalize domestic legal procedures on its accession before the G-20 September summit” in the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang. It will be the first G-20 summit to be hosted by China.

“China is a responsible major developing country, and the Chinese people honor their commitments,” he said at an opening daylong ceremony in New York for the signing of the climate pact reached in December 2015.

That announcement means that both the U.S. and China—accounting for 38 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions—are heading a group of early adopters that plan to join the pact in the months ahead; Australia and Canada also have made similar pledges.

Another eight countries also have pledged early action either in the run-up to the UN signing event or at the April 22 ceremony, according to the World Resources Institute think tank, including Argentina, Mexico, Norway and the Philippines.

France Pledges Quick Action

French President Francois Hollande suggested his country also could move forward in the months ahead and ratify the deal, but it is unclear whether France intends to do so well ahead of the European Union. Procedurally, France and other member nations of the European Union have traditionally not moved to deposit their instruments of ratification—essentially documents delivered to the UN—ahead of the EU itself.

Hollande acknowledged that moving something so monumental through legislative approval in France “may be particularly cumbersome.” But “I want to be able say to the secretary-general of the United Nations in the summer that it's done,” he said. “We would like to say we have ratification before this summer.”

Secretary of State John Kerry signed the Paris pact at the event on behalf of the U.S. and in a morning address to the UN reiterated the U.S. promise to sign the deal this year. “And we call on all of our international partners to do so,” Kerry said.

Some countries, many of them small island nations, went a step beyond signing the pact at the one-day UN ceremony and deposited their instruments of ratification on the same day.

Early Ratification by 15 Nations

But those 15 nations—including Barbados, Belize, Fiji and the island states of Maldives, Nauru, Saint Lucia, Samoa and Tuvalu—even taken together are minor contributors to rising global temperatures and account for well under 1 percent of global emissions.

President Barack Obama, who plans to join the agreement using his executive authority to avoid Senate ratification, has vowed to do so “as soon as possible this year,” but the U.S. was no more specific on its timing at the April 22 UN ceremony (62 ECR, 3/31/16).

The Paris Agreement can enter into force only if at least 55 nations representing 55 percent of global emissions ratify it, or—as in the case of the U.S.—approve it using executive authority. But approval from the U.S., China and the European Union, which all are committed to joining the deal, would get the countries close to the 55 percent emissions threshold.

New Top U.S. Negotiator

For the U.S., the signing ceremony also represented a passing of the baton for a State Department climate negotiating team that had been headed by Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern since the first months of the Obama administration.

Jonathan Pershing, a long-time fixture in past negotiations who succeeded Stern as U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, signaled at the ceremony that the U.S. remains unwavering in its demand that the Paris deal include strong transparency and verification rules.

“Transparency is really one of the bedrocks of the agreement” that needs fleshing out at the next round of high-level talks in November, to be held in Marrakesh, Morocco, and in the years ahead, Pershing said.

“Robust” transparency rules are key to ensuring the nearly 200 nations that agreed to the Paris accord last December “update each other on the progress they're making” on their pledges to address climate change, which underpin the Paris Agreement, Pershing said.

The U.S. also will provide $15 million to help nations in their “capacity building,” Pershing said, essentially technical expertise needed to report emissions reductions and to show that their domestic actions are actually cutting emissions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at